Creative people routinely complain that the “normal,” everyday world requires restrictions on the flow of awareness. The analogy I was using with a friend the a couple of weeks ago that the mental spigot controlling information input and output for some creatives seems to be naturally more open than the spigot for the average person. They face a cascade of images and perspectives that flow through the mind, and they must be restrict this flow to interact with others. Tightening the spigot allows one to interact, to befriend, to pay the bills. But tightening the spigot takes energy and makes one feel creative loss.
During that conversation I recalled one of my favorite lyrics, I Pity Inanimate Objects, by the creative team of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. The song ends with the observation that maybe it’s better that inanimate objects cannot express and emote: “the fewer the moving parts, the less there is to go wrong.”
I hear this echoed among my creative connections all the time. They feel out of place because they believe that their brains function differently than most people’s. They believe they are flooded with things that others do not experience. They seem envious that “normal” people do not have to restrict themselves in order to relate to others.
What seems clear from contemporary brain research, however, is that all humans are flooded with data. It’s simply that the vast majority of people don’t even recognize the flood.
For example, the average person will often contrast the “reality” of wakefulness with the “bizarreness” of dream experience, focusing in particular on the disjointed interconnection of images and experiences during dreaming. Yet most peoples’ supposedly conscious, focused experience of reality is a rush, a ping-ponging, of snippets of thought. Even when apparently focused, we move from thoughts about an itchy nose, to whether the light is good enough in this room, to a sore shoulder, to perhaps I’m a little hungry, and back to what we’re “thinking about” with little awareness of those breaks in attention. If we consciously recalled this cascade, it would be much harder to distinguish reality and dreaming. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, what we label after the fact reality is just a construct.
Why do I point this out? I offer two thoughts, one for self-aware creatives, the other for those who think they are not.
For creatives who feel self-conscious about their mental spigot being naturally too loose or open, there may be a different, gentler, and more affirming description. It’s not that your brain is wired differently, it’s that you’re more aware than most of us of the actual wiring of the human brain. You are aware of a flow that most people receive but do not perceive. Don’t feel awkward about the supposed difference; instead, feel blessed that you have insights and awareness that many people never achieve.
And for “the rest of us”? My colleagues and students who are lawyers often say they aren’t “creative.” Even if they grudgingly admit that they could possibly be creative given the right circumstances, they complain that they have not lived interesting lives that might provide inspiration.
I respond with a paraphrase from psychologist Ellen Langer: you’re either an artist or you don’t know yet. You cannot say definitively that you are uncreative. Nor can you possibly know that you have no well upon which to draw for inspiration.
Practice mindfulness. Being aware of what goes on in your mind might lead to surprising sources of information, inspiration, and unusual — yes, creative — perspective. You might learn that you’ve always had the spigot of informational input opened very wide, but you’ve never consistently noticed most of the water flow.
Also, take risks. Or course you might make a fool of yourself. No will remember that. Trust me. They’re far too self-absorbed to care. It will flow right by most people. And by taking the risk, you may make a fool of the world.